World Cup Semi-Final: Uruguay vs Netherlands, 6 July 2010.

Posted in Sporting Events on July 6, 2010 by psychoandy

So that was a lesson in how to win a game of soccer: “Look, Suarez, no hands!” (Ah, those lovable Dutch and their bicycling-appropriate metaphors!) So it seems that winning is just a matter of beating the goalkeeper – and by “beating” I mean kicking or heading the ball passed him, not kicking him in the foot then crying about how the bad black man hurt one’s tootsie. But when it comes right down to it, Uruguay played a really good game. Without Suarez diving, rolling about, and generally crying like a sissy, Uruguay is a really good team to watch.

Epic result: Netherlands 3, Uruguay 2.

Last month this time I was in Canada, and I’m still humming “Barrett’s Privateers”.

Posted in Travel on June 24, 2010 by psychoandy

And it was nearly a year ago that I was in Halifax, where I learnt the song, Barrett’s Privateers. I’m back from Canada now, back in old Sleepy Hollow, back with the folks, back to the real world, back out somewhere in the lumbar region from all the bad nights spent on buses. I AM still humming Barrett’s Privateers, which is an old  Canadian sailor’s tune sung in time to fingers tapping on pint glasses. And it’s not only a tune that I’m humming: some bits of Canada rubbed off on me, and I’m back in my homeland a changed man, a sort of hybrid Afro-Canadian, with a head full of dangerous new ideas and perspectives as fresh and a pair of fabric-softened socks. Well, it’s either me that’s become a new man, or South Africa itself that changed while I was away. At any rate, I’m seeing a different country to what I saw when I left. South Africa is, as I see it now, lousy with opportunities, good will and the hallmarks of economic success. You’d have to be seriously blinkered not to see it – as I was when I left looking for greener pastures. Something else weird has happened while I was away: before, white people never watched soccer. Now a) it’s called “football”, b) white people wear Bafana jerseys, and c) everyone sings the national anthem in its entirety. Even the fiddley bits in the middle.

South Africa has changed, and so have I. So off I go, heading towards that grubby gem on the highveld, Jo’burg, to find a job, make new friends, and pursue a career in medicine.

I think I like this new country.

The best part about Quebec City

Posted in Travel on October 14, 2009 by psychoandy

It’s everything. The charm of cobbled streets, the people speaking DSCN9127French in French accents, the roadside cafes. Mostly, however, it’s the city walls. Nothing, but nothing, beats an hour long stroll on some 400 year-old masonry overlooking elaborate, fantastical architecture and a river as wide as the English Channel.

This picture shows Ginger and I eating out sarmies, wondering whether the crumbs are bothering the girls below us and their dogs. Seriously, can you get much better than this?

You can actually. I forgot to mention the warm sun on my face and the trusty Ginger at my side.

I’m trying not to spoil the moment by thinking that I have to go to work tomorrow.

What it’s like eating Ethiopian food.

Posted in Cuisine on August 23, 2009 by psychoandy

Malnourished jokes about the lack of substance of this blog entry aside, my experience of Ethiopian food (at least in Toronto) is that it is a) plentiful, b) rather tasty, c) best served in a moodily lit room to the accompaniment of soulful jazz.

There are two elements here: firstly the ambiance of the place, which should seem rather cosy and be dimly lit, like an opium den.

The second element is the food itself, which should look something like this:

Ethiopian food.It is simple in concept, subtle in flavour, and bugger to eat without special training. It takes the form of hearty stews, enhanced with interesting spices, served on a flat-bread (called injeera). No eating utensils are provided, which is where the skill comes into it. But then, as I always say, “rather a finger in the eye than a fork”. I escaped with only a minor dinner-badge, so I was happy.

The most surprising aspect of the meal was the flat-bread (given my experience with various kinds of savoury “pancake” type arrangements, such as the roti or taco), as it is made of a spongy, crumpet-like dough, with a distinct aftertaste of lemon. Even more surprising, the bread (called “injeera”) is served cold, and the stew hot.  But the overall effect is excellent, making for a fun, hearty meal.

To finish off the meal we opted to try their fried banana and ice-cream, certainly no culinary feat of great originality and genius, but so tasty that I saw swear I saw grown men whimpering to acquire their girlfriends’ leftovers. I was of course one of them, but the Ginge would have none of it. She was too busy licking her plate to notice my distress in any case.

Overall, I’d eat Ethiopian again.

Ethiopian WIN.Satisfied Ethiopian celebrating a fried banana and ice-cream.

Going to big concerts.

Posted in Travel on August 6, 2009 by psychoandy

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller.

Ferris Bueller

Watching the Canadian summer fly by, I think I understand exactly what the the acclaimed adolescent absentee was on about: You don’t have as much time as you think you have to enjoy yourself, so you’d better hurry up and make the most of the time that you do have. Canadians understand this when it comes to summer, because it doesn’t last all that long. It’s August already (gah! nhung! eeek!), which means that the summer is already being called in to wash its face and go to bed just as its beginning to enjoy itself. But I’m aware that this sounds as if I’m regretful of the time that’s gone by – I’m not. Ginge and I have, as usual, been really busy. This past long weekend we spent in quiet contemplation of the things we have done, and making plans for things we want to do next.

Green Day Kick Ass in the HammerSince we got back from Ottawa (more than a month ago now), it seems that all our time and money has gone into seeing concerts and shows. Of these, the first was the best, and was Green Day performing in Hamilton. My explanations of the stage antics and performance energy would not do the performance justice, and neither do the few photographs and video clips we took while leaping about bellowing the lyrics to Basketcase. But I’ll try anyway: we were in the very back row, but we didn’t sit down once. No one did.

Next up was a comedy festival in Toronto called “Just for Laughs”. The evening we attended was a showcase of a handful of British comedians, and was hosted by John Cleese, which pretty much made it for me.Massey Hall The theatre, Massey Hall, was one of Toronto’s older theatres, which means that in addition to oodles of charm and architecture, for no extra cost you get things like seats positioned with a view of a pillar, or seats from which you can only see half the stage. Also, each seat was made using no more than a miraculous 20 square centimetres of cheap wood and some sort of abrasive wire. I believe this area of so called “cheap” seating is known in official thespian terms as “the gallery”, and I have no doubt that the term “peanut gallery” originated here, presumably because there was nothing much else to do but throw peanuts when you are faced with a pillar and your ears are being warmed by the knees of the Irishman sitting behind you.

However, once we moved to better seats, the show proved to be rather good.

Talking about good seats, let me give you some fun facts: The Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Skydome due to its retractable roof) has over 46 105 seats. So far I have tried two of them and they both seemed to be pretty darn good. On the first occasion, I was sitting in the cheapest seats money can buy, the ceiling was open, it was a beautiful afternoon, and the Blue Jays were playing the Red Sox in a game called baseball. (Baseball, it turns out, is much like cricket except that in baseball the batsmen have a lot further to run, but to make up for it, they don’t run that often.) As I said, it was a beautiful afternoon and,  having found my seats and generously tipped my Sherpa who got me to them, I found the view spectacular and the beer just as good.

The Blue Jays won, the fans got free pizza, and the next thing I knew we were off on a road trip to Mississauga, hosted by cousin Lisa’s fiance, Stephan, who is indigenous to this particular region. Mississauga is a 20 minute drive or so from Toronto but, more importantly for our purposes, is home to a restaurant called “Pete’s”.

You may wonder about this apparent digression off the topic of concerts and shows to roadtrips and restaurants: Pete’s is a show in and of itself. More than a show, it is a spectacle. From the plastic fountains to the artificial pink flowers, Pete’s is pure kitch. The crowning glory, amidst the ivy-dripping chandeliers, had to be the enormous plastic stained-glass dome, curiously inverted and distended as it hung from the ceiling like a holy disco ball in Michelangelo’s hell. But the decor is not the only reason to go. You go for the size of their sandwiches. The waitress told the girls, “I’d go with the medium, dears,” and smiled in a non-judgemental way. Steph and I still had their leftovers for lunch the next day. It was great.

But anyway, the second seat I tried at the Rogers Rogers again...Centre was in much the same row as the previous one, but a few sections to the right. This time, the roof was closed, the lights were dimmed, synthetic smoke hung heavily in the air, and Coldplay were somewhere behind the enormous set occupying the back quarter of the arena. Speakers and lights and two 50′ screens were suspended from the gigantic dome and 44 000 people were expectant. When the muzak goes off and the lights plunge the stadium into darkness, the instant before the first note is plucked and the band appears on stage as if by magic, the stadium erupts in an uncontrolled and unified cry of excitement.

Coldplay put on a really good show – quieter than Green Day – but nonetheless well worth watching. I sat for most of the show, but I spent this morning listening to the latest two albums. I wasn’t much of a fan before, so that’s saying something.

Caribana I nearly forgot about another show of sorts we saw: the annual Caribbean nationals festival along Lakeshore, Caribana. It’s like what I imagine the Rio Carnival to be like, but with a lot more fried chicken. It’s basically the biggest cookout you could imagine, with some girls wearing feathers prancing around on the side. We chilled with the crowds and enjoyed a deep fried lunch, Caribbean style.

Coming up we still have Weezer and Blink 182 to look forward to, and I plan to hang outside the U2 concert in September to see if I can get tickets to that. Perhaps I’ll make a trade with someone for a sandwich from Pete’s. It’ll be a good deal.

Rafting and Ottawa

Posted in Uncategorized on July 9, 2009 by psychoandy

Ottawa, I recently discovered, is a helluva long way from Toronto. This is the story about how I got there, having utilized five different modes of transport, only to end up spending two nights in jail.

Last weekend, the Ginge and I were invited by some of her colleagues to go white-water rafting in the great Canadian outdoors. A much need break, and perfectly in line with our philosophy that unexpected-travel-plans-are-dancing-lessons-from-God, we accepted and thought, since we were in the neighbourhood, we might as well make it a long weekend and spend a couple of days in Canada’s capital city. As it turns out, Ottawa deserves the title “capital”, equally in the sense of “head city” and in the sense of an old English fellow smacking and rubbing his hands together with glee (“Capital!” *smack* *rub*, gin-and-tonics all round!). Ottawa is olde worlde, charming, and as colonial as they come. It made us thing of Europe and want to lounge about in pavement cafes. But back to the rafting for now.

A long way from the noise and dust of Toronto (and two weeks into a garbage workers strike!) we breathed in the fresh breeze squinted into the bright sunlight of the leafy northern suburbs, as we drove east and north into “Cottage Country”. I have heard it said that Toronto is not the real Canada but just another American city, and you could see where this view came from. Cottage Country is where the Canadians flee to during the summer, a land of hills and pine trees and lakes and flags on front porches. It is small-town and the great outdoors. It is where Canadians go to be Canadian, and where we were rafting.

The place we stayed at was fantastic – it had its own little beach on the banks of the huge Ottawa River, where lazing on the lawns or swimming or kayaking, you could see miles of forests lining the river, and little rocky islands adorned by single trees and the odd bather pausing for breath. On the far side of the river, we were impressed to see Quebec, which looks exactly the same, only the trees are les pines. That evening we enjoyed the sunset glowing on the lawns and cabins, before burgers off the barbeque and live music around the campfire.

The following morning, after a reasonable breakfast, making up for in volume what it lacked in cholesterol, we hit the water in our massive 12-man rafts which, we discover, go through rapids not entirely unlike a bloated yellow caterpillar with 12 thrashing legs. With tiny people in life jackets riding it*. So it wasn’t the most death-defying activity we’d ever experienced, but the scenery and the company more than made up for it. I got splashed a few times too, and the water wasn’t bad.

Food tastes better outdoors, and after swimming, so I really enjoyed the barbeque on the pontoon that floated us back to camp, with the rafts towing in a long procession behind us at the end of the day. A victory parade in honour of a good day and a t-shirt suntan.

When we left the camp to head west on the next leg of our trip (to Ottawa itself), we were that nice kind of tired you get after a really busy, fun day outdoors and a little too much sun. So were were not prepared for the Greyhound. Our ticket said “departing 6.49pm Cobden, arriving 8.50pm Ottawa”. Hmm. You can picture it right: small town, Sunday evening, standing at the Shell Garage, waiting. Thunder clouds roll ominously overhead. Oh yes. The bus eventually arrived in Cobden closer to 7.52pm, but not before the “scattered showers” which we thankfully missed that afternoon while rafting. Needless to say, we got to Ottawa in the end, and the Greyhound is really cheap, but I must admit that I was eyeing the roadside motel in Cobden and wondering if my bookings in Ottawa were refundable.

Ever been in Pietermaritzburg on a Monday night? Ottawa is exactly the same on a Sunday night – very quiet (although without litter and muggers). The answer to the question: “What can I do in Toronto on a Sunday night?” is pretty much “Whatever you damn well please”. This doesn’t apply to Ottawa, so we discovered. In fact, you could probably stroll quite safely  down the main street in the altogether without anyone batting an eyelid, nor any eyelid being present to bat, for that matter. This leads to the bit I mentioned earlier, about how we came to spend two nights in jail.

The hostel we stayed in was an old jail.

That wasn’t as exciting as I thought it was going to be*. But at any rate, it was a really interesting place to stay, and you can find out more about here: http://www.carletoncountygaol.com/content/history/history.shtml. JailThere was a ghost tour which rather freaked us out, and we ended up sleeping with the lights on.

The days were less haunting. We took two full days of running around to see a fraction of what there is is Ottawa. It is like a New World Europe – lots of history and charm, beautiful chateaux, a series of locks joining the Ottawa River with the man-made Rideau Canal, which winds among the cities parks and residential districts, and monuments to fallen heroes scattered here and there. The olde worlde charm was completed for us when we pretty much accidentally, but very luckily, ran into the changing of the guards parade on the way to parliament, complete with marching brass and pipe bands. The guards dressed in a manner reminiscent of the guards at Buckingham Palace (which is in London Eng-ge-land, for the American readers), of which Ottawa, for some strange reason, boasts a 1:4 scale model. So I am told, it was within these cramped quarters that presumably hunched-over inventors came up with some pretty useful stuff, including the zipper. (As I write this I realise it sounds absolutely ridiculous, so I’m not convinced my memory is accurate.)

Parliament Library, OttawaThe library of their parliament is beautiful and interesting, and is really worth having a look at. In fact, the whole city is pretty appealling visually, particularly from the river, from which we saw most of the city, in a guided boat tour. Parliament is elevated above the river on a forested cliff; to the left are the locks to the canal, and beyond that is the fairy-tale-like castle, Chateau Laurier, which is a rather pricey hotel.

We can boast now too that we have been to Quebec, which basically entails crossing the river. We elected to use the bridge apparently designed for this purpose, although for not much extra charge we could have elected to swim. Gatineau (aka Hull), which is the city across the river, is very French. Suddenly everything changes and nothing is in English. We went into a liquor store to see if anything was cheaper on the other side of the border, and it might have been for all I know, as the price-tags in Quebec are among the more complicated I have seen, but not as complicated as the traffic lights, which are oriented horizontally and appear to operate using various combinations of about 6 different colours (“mauve: turn left now if your original direction is along the north-south axis, but only if you are in the lane furthermost from the closest school bus”). But by far the best part about Gatineau, I thought, was the amazing view it affords of Ottawa.

We had a really nice time at the National Gallery back on the English side of the river, where they have literally thousands of excellent pieces of art, including a decent European collection which we both enjoyed.

Probably the worst part of the trip for me was not the Greyhound as you might expect, which more than redeemed itself with a comfortable and speedy ride home though some great Canadian outdoors (Les pines again, and rocks, and roadkill – more on the roadkill later), but was actually a street performer we encountered in the Byward Market. He was an Aussie and an aggressive believer in audience participation, which activated all my fears and superstitions about carnies, so we had to circumvent him by quite a way. Luckily the Aussies redeemed themselves a bit later, when our waiter at the pub redeemed his kin by being everything I enjoy about the Australians – direct, hospitable and giving me beer. Good grub too, and too much of it, in the appropriate manner.

On roadkill: this is apparently the chief way of spotting wildlife in Canada. We didn’t see a single live animal the entire time, which was upsetting to say the least. Hopefully, we will see some Canadian creatures this coming weekend, when we are going camping on Lake Erie for a long weekend. Fewer roads out there and, we are hoping, a lot more of Canada’s charm. I enjoy a regular dose of it.

Go to Ottawa if you get the chance. We’ll be going again in winter, when the canal freezes over and becomes the world’s longest skating rink!

— Barmy Andy

*I don’t know!

Catching up.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2009 by psychoandy

It is now nearly four months since I left the sunny shores of the motherland in search of adventure, new horizons and people who won’t keep trying to nick my bicycle. I’ve definitely found at least two of the three – the latter remains untested as I have yet to purchase a bicycle. At any rate, the adventure and new horizons, and certainly the extra walking (through lack of aforementioned bicycle) have kept me busy. Which is why I’m writing the first installment of my weekly blog today, towards the end of my forth month in Canada.

It’s likely to be a lengthy entry.

Toronto bustles and hums, shakes and jives, and definitely has a enough salsa to keep anyone with hips happy for as long as they can gyrate them. If a city were music it would be rock n roll played by Latinos with arrangements by Strauss. It is fast-paced, trendy, and noisy, and blends (with no sense of shame) the old and the new and the rich and the poor. It is a city of immigrants, where no-one even bothers to ask what accent you have and where it’s from – they are simply grateful that you speak English. But that is the charm of the city: it blends the suave Italians and their spicy sausages with the ultra-rich uptown housewives and their tiny dogs (pooping indecorously in overpriced handbags). It marries the scuttling Chinese in their cheap-clothing stores with the schwarma-loving Greeks. It provides the playground where bankers swagger and hobos mutter.

But all of this is done really, really safely and really, really politely.

But, between sitting here in this beautiful, crazy metropolis, with Lake Ontario to one side, and the city and my place of work on the other (and Ginge doing the ironing in the background) it is mind-boggling to think how much has happened since we arrived on a reasonably bloody-freezing day in March.

Our first experience of Canada was rather of being thrown in at the deep end (thankfully not literally because we went to Niagara Falls our first weekend here).

This, and a gentle freezing rain. The term “the joys of spring” was NOT coined by a Canadian.

But it was surreal showing up in Toronto, and being left on the sidewalk of a street that seems to go on forever, on the flatest landscape I have ever soon, with taxis and streetcars and pedestrians and scarves everywhere. There we were, n00bs from Maritzburg, trying to look leftbefore stepping to cross the street, with the simple mission of finding employment, accommodation, a bank account, a cell phone, a metro pass, some knowledge of what not to eat, how far away to stand from people — and someone please tell me, because I’m still not sure about this one, how do you hail a Toronto streetcar? — all of this while severely jetlagged.

You have no idea how awesome it was to have an uncle and aunt 40 minutes away in Oakville, where a hearty plate of food and a warm, warm bed awaited us. I had every intention of staying with them for a few nights until we found jobs and rented a reasonably sized house. I scoff openly at my own naivety and am infinitely grateful to my aunt and uncle for having us with them for the first two months we were here.

Oakville is beautiful, quite, peaceful and infinitely removed from craziness of the city. It’s the ‘burbs, boy. If Oakville had a theme song, it would be written by Elton John or Billy Joel and would require some sort of dance that involved linking and unlinking arms with a variety of people in a very specific order. And someone would ask that you turn it down anyway.

But it is beautiful and I am in love with it. It is so quite, so peaceful, so leafy and so clean. Houses are neat, lawns are mowed, snow is shoveled, newspapers are read, and people sniff vaguely as they sip their tea and wonder if they locked the front door, or rather, when last they even saw the front door key. In Africa, you live behind bars because you have to, and it took me a while to get used to walking past the curtainless, barless windows with the dark night outside without expecting a panga-wielding assailant to appear. You get used to it. You drink your tea and stroll about the empty streets at night and wonder vaguely what all the fuss was about with crime in Africa anyway. You pass a jovial comment with a passerby and comment on the friendliness of his dog, and then watch in amazement as he cleans up after it with a little plastic baggie he then deposits in a specially allocated bin, designed for the purpose. You find yourself stooping to pick up a stray piece of litter that flutters by and shake your head in disapproval.

Ah, Oakville.Oakville

Then their was the job-hunting. My God, the job hunting! We got to do it in comfort, with filter coffee all the time and comfy sofas to sit on, and insanely fast internet. That much makes me happy. Having to do the job hunting itself makes me decidedly miserable, like the guy who has to empty those special bins in Oakville. We sat for about two weeks solidly, sending email after email, refining and tweaking resumes and cover-letters, drinking coffee, with not even an email acknowledging our existence. I must admit, I checked the internet connection at one point. For anyone who has sat down and job hunted full time, you have my sincerest sympathy because it is the most soul-destroying activity. I nearly cried for joy when I received my first auto-response email thanking me for an application – just ‘cos it meant that, somewhere out there, an email filter cared.

We did get jobs in the end, however: both of us scored a job at the Bank of Montreal as Antimoney laundering analysts, but the Ginge got the grand prize and got herself a very nice job at a local hospital specialising in the rehabilitation of patients. I must admit, I was relieved that we weren’t working together, as I think the result of this form of close-range competition would not be covered by our insurance. I do my thing, she does hers, we listed to each other at the end of the day over a drink and dinner and it’s great.

The job hunt seems like a long time ago now, and we are content in out apartment and with out lives I have been putting off the fact that my job sucks and I should get a new one, preferably before October when my contact expires……. Meh! Molest me not with such trifles and pass me another ale.

(Let me interject at this point to say that the beers in Toronto, although insanely expensive enough to make you seriously consider not having another and saving it for tomorrow, even though you eventually cave in anyway, as you knew you would, are bloody excellent in their variety and flavour. More on this later, for sure).

So, you’ve got the beginning bit, and the sort of now, in-the-present bit of this story, but there is lots I have left out, and it is all very interesting and I’d like to fill you in on it. But right now it’s late and I’m thinking about my bed (which I bought with my own money, by the way, which is first and an excellent feeling, especially being purchased in a foreign country using currency I don’t fully understand (moose droppings), and because it came in bits and had to be assembled. (Oooooh, which reminds me (boy, this has got me excited!), I assembled our coffee table from a few planks and dowels using nothing more than a pair of tweezers, a belt-buckle, and a garlic press. I nominate myself for a million man-points.)

But enough of this drivel. More to come.

—- Barms